UWRAISE Urges University to Take Action - Racism still Prevalent on Campus

Thu, 01/28/2021 - 11:00

Yesterday, UWRAISE had their first event of the term: Climate Justice is Racial Justice. Unfortunately, the event was bombarded, explicit, harmful racial and anti-Semitic slurs. 

WUSA would like to state unequivocally that we do not condone these acts of racism against our students and all individuals. 
Our priority remains making the University of Waterloo a more inclusive, safe, and equitable environment for all students. 
As an organization, we find it disturbing that our members experience these forms of harassment and acts of racism. We acknowledge the context and environment that has enabled this behavior and remain committed to doing what it takes to change it -including working with RAISE to define and design safer systems for our community. 

Read RAISE’s statement below: 

Hello. Good afternoon. Let's talk about the prevalent racism on the @uwaterloo campus. 

TW: antisemitism, explicit anti-Black racism 

Yes, we are in Canada. Yes, widespread racism may not feel as apparent or real than it does in the US. But as university students, staff and academics -- we should know better. This should not be news to anyone: Racism is prevalent on the UW campus (ever try listening to racialized students?) and this racism is, to say the least, harmful to the mental well-being of our students. 

Yesterday, we had our first event of the term: Climate Justice is Racial Justice. Our coordinators were planning this event for months, ensuring we have the best speakers, that we build an audience and that we release educational resources leading up to the event. Point being: we executed the event as well as any event goes. What went wrong? 

Well, what went "wrong" was unfortunately not a one-time incident, as much as folks would want to believe. No racist, bigoted and violent incident happens in isolation - there are many instances of silence, indifference and ignorance that make a violent event possible. This is what we want to address. 

Facts: After our host introduced the event and the first speaker, someone hacked into our webinar and began drawing inappropriate images. As our moderators removed this person and tightened the security of the webinar, our speaker continued with the conversation (kudos to our speakers for being incredibly calm and unfazed - indeed, trolls deserve no attention). 

Facts, cont.: Later, our chat began being bombarded with explicit - and please understand the gravity of this - explicit, violent and harmful racial and antisemitic slurs. Things like "white power" were being repeatedly chanted in the chat in all caps. The swastika symbol was being used. Some users also had the swastika as their display picture. Repeated mention of the n-word. 

Facts, cont.: our host immediately shut down the chat and asked the team to a) not allow new participants and b) remove the chat option for all. 

Now before we move on to address the violence of this incident, it should be noted that RAISE strives to create a space for all, even if it has come at a cost. Our events are always open to people who tend to disagree with us; in fact, we have welcomed conversations that are critical. Turning off the chat was a hard decision, because it limits access to the space that RAISE wants to create on campus, but it had to be done. 

Now, let's talk about some context. This is not new. This has happened before. In Spring 2020 and Fall 2020, members of our team were personally harassed by students on campus for nothing other than being a part of RAISE. There was no argument, no conversation, no complaint or discussion. Just outright hate speech. 

We informed WUSA about this. We agreed to meet with them on *many occasions* -- and this is before coordinators began getting paid. So our coordinators were spending hours each week out of their days merely to re-tell the same story about how racism needs to be addressed to prevent the next explicit event of hate speech. 

There is a limit to how much mere conversations can do. 

Lastly, before we receive any replies like 1) why didn't RAISE ensure the absolute security for online events? and 2) report the folks behind the hate speech to the police, please consider: 

1) RAISE tried to warn collaborating members about the on-going heat that RAISE is accustomed to receiving; we were under the impression that security was being appropriately handled by the designated club's responsibility. And generally, no one anticipates being attacked by a white supremacist group for every event they plan for. 

2) We do not believe in reporting white supremacist hate speech directed at us to the police. Why? Short answer: consider what happened a few weeks ago at Washington D.C. when white supremacists stormed the Capitol and the police took selfies with them. Also, we don't believe police can fix the deep institutional racism that our campus represents (and does barely anything about). 

Additionally, we would like to congratulate @FossilFreeUW and @ESS for throwing a great event regardless. If you were a part of our event yesterday -- thank you for joining us. We hope this incident didn't harm you. If it did, we are here -- our peer support hours are functioning every weekday from 12-4pm. Our emails, DMs and message boxes are open. 

Thank you to all the speakers and participants. Let's not lose focus on what is important: Environmental racism is deadly; divestment from fossil fuels should be sensibly considered by @UWaterloo, and @UWaterloo needs to do a better job at protecting its students from white supremacists. 

Such events won't stop us from our advocacy. We urge you to share our voice and demand action, responsibility and accountability from @UWaterloo and @WUSA. Thank you all. In solidarity.